A year of the Feminist School: e-book brings together theoretical and methodological backups

04/03/2022 |

By Capire

Read an excerpt from “Systems of oppression on women’s lives”, part of Berta Cáceres International Feminist Organizing School's curriculum.

Today, March 4, marks the 1 year anniversary of the start of the Berta Cáceres International Feminist Organizing School. The first edition of the School brought together around 200 women from different countries in nine online meetings for reflection and exchange of experiences and resistance. From March to July 2021, participants discussed topics such as systems of oppression, dissident sexualities, State and democracy, defending Mother Earth and feminist economics. Paying homage to Berta Cáceres, this process of construction is based on her strength and legacy to strengthen grassroots feminism and the proposal of a feminist economy.

The School is held in an alliance between Grassroots Global Justice, Grassroots International, Indigenous Environmental Network and the World March of Women. As a space for exchange between women and gender dissident folks from different parts of the world, linguistic justice was and is a principle throughout its construction process.

Expand the training, strengthen the struggles

The School’s axes, debates and experiences were systematized in a virtual book, available for reading in the official languages: Portuguese, French, English and Spanish. The book contains the texts used during the meetings, reflections on the main axes promoted by the School and the methodologies developed. Thus, the organizing team encourages the training to be replicated by the participants in their territories.

Developing trainers, going deeper in the debates put forward by feminist leaders, boosting their local struggles. This is one of the main goals of the School. Therefore, the next step is the School of Facilitators, which will take place from March this year, with the same participants as in the first edition, so that they can be facilitators in their territories. Regional initiatives are also encouraged. The World March of Women in the Americas, for example, will carry out its own training, inspired by the International Feminist Organizing School.


We encourage the reading of the entire book, but we have selected the excerpt below to start. Written by Georgina Alfonso González, one of the School’s facilitators, the text “Systems of oppression on women’s lives” exposes the mechanisms of the capitalist and patriarchal system of oppression over women’s lives. Read, below, the second section of the text, entitled “The different manifestations of capitalism as a system of oppression”:


The different manifestations of capitalism as a system of oppression

Understanding capitalism as a system of oppression allows us to explain the social process for the reproduction of life and the practices of domination. This framework allows us to debate the challenges for emancipation. The axes of capitalist domination are expressed in economic, political-ideological, socio-cultural, environmental, symbolic-mediatic, and knowledge-wisdom oppressions.

1. Economic oppression

The new understandings of what work is are provoking an important change in the forms of subjectification–that is, the forms by which one becomes a subject–occurring within the productive process. This directly impacts the forms of exploitation that affect women the most. It is a fact that the cynical economic rationality makes care work invisible, performed mainly by women, but without enjoying any economic recognition and/or remuneration. In addition to the sophisticated forms of exploitation of labor, there is also the “informalization” and the “flexibilization” of the labor market, which places women in an even more precarious situation.

Capital reorganizes its new forces by further destroying the sense of the productive process as a unit. Instead, under these conditions, labor becomes part of “everyday life,” inseparable and indispensable for everyone. Social bonds today happen under the influence of this extreme physical, psychological, and even unconscious exploitation of labor that polarizes society as a whole. The constant tensions between the State, the family, the community and the market in the world of labor tend to be solved to the detriment of women’s work, and in favor of the market. The market ends up supplying labor to cover care needs, thus causing the immediate commodification of care work and the precarization of life.

In the global economy, these changes are manifested in a “new international division of labor,” where the Third World participates in the production and exportation of primary products, while its labor is incorporated into different segments within the value chain of global production. The combination of market competition and the deployment of new technologies are an inescapable part of the process for accumulating profits. The containment of wages and the flexibilization of, and exclusion from the labor market are proposed as the driving forces and dynamics of the global economy, as work becomes more complex due to the changes accelerated by the impact of the information and communication technologies.

At a time when the economy is barely growing, the trend for more aggressive economic development means the progressive exclusion of the labor force. In moments of strong expansion, surplus value decreases when employment is replaced by technology, which is compensated by the development of new economic activities, which tend to make competitiveness and exclusion even more aggressive.

Technology is mainly aimed at developing the sectors and products already established in the market, instead of opening new productive spaces. The benefits generated by new technologies are absorbed by the same competitors, increasing their power, dominance and control, not only over what is sold, but also over the new sectors and products that are created. Technology becomes the “holy remedy” for the social ills of underdeveloped countries. Under the psychosis of disproportionate competition, technology becomes a major element for the exclusion of women.

2. Political-ideological oppression

Political-ideological oppression works under the premise of reconciling the demands of capitalist accumulation with the necessary legitimization of the new neoliberal order. Using a traditional discourse of human rights, justice, public freedoms, and the exercise of citizenship, a radical ethic of the isolated individual–who is the protagonist of the norms and procedures of democracy–is constituted. However, the political-ideological domination is reaffirmed in successive oppressions based on class, gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, generation, among others.

Political oppression is deployed for the control of sovereignty, autonomy and freedom through the use of material power (weapons and armies), as well as through military-type alliances and strategies. These are developed to strengthen the performative capacity of the system of domination, which divides the progressive and popular sectors, while consolidating the interests of the block in power in public policies.

Capitalism replicates its own contradictions in all of its axes of domination. In the current crisis, under the COVID-19 pandemic, the incongruence of interests between the imperatives of capital accumulation and the maintenance of public power is made clear. While legitimate and effective public power is a condition of possibility for sustaining the accumulation of capital, the internal drive of the system towards unlimited accumulation tends to destabilize the very political power in which it depends. This political contradiction explains the successive crises of democracy and reveals the anti-democratic character of this system.

3. Socio-cultural oppression

The appropriation of subjectivity reinforces the need for capital to reproduce its own values and ways of life, on an international scale, in order to establish itself with absolute power. The expansion and deterritorialization of the cultural industries, the concentration and privatization of the media, the expansion and homogenization of the information networks, the weakening of the notions of the public and the private, are all necessary conditions to guarantee the efficiency of capitalist globalization. These are also the cause of political skepticism, social apathy and the discrediting of the values that dignify women as emancipatory political subjects.

The culture of power imposes cultural homogenization to acquire roots. This is hidden underneath a discourse of truth and tolerance, unity and plurality, democracy and competitiveness, freedom and equality. Diversity, cultural exuberance, and the multifaceted capacity for expression all conflict with the uniformity induced by capitalist dynamics. However, this uniformity is also hidden behind a world of commodities that far exceed people’s capacity to consume them. Only in the market is variety capitalized; almost always without any aesthetic or ethical consideration, and only with the end goal of obtaining maximum profit from it. The creativity conditioned and constrained by big capital homogenizes cultural products and the markets of symbolic goods. This increasingly closes the possibilities for creating freely. Cultural plurality emphasizes structural, cultural and historical inequalities, and disseminates transnational cultural rationality.

Socio-cultural domination is also associated with religious fundamentalisms that are launched against women’s rights to a dignified life, unleashing a frontal assault against the movements for women’s emancipation, queer liberation and anti-racism.

4. Environmental oppression

Environmental oppression is disguised in the rationality of “progress and prosperity”. It is a system that takes the life or death relationship to the limit, and that enforces competitive efficiency and the use of utilitarian models of intervention in nature. The care and reproduction of life are considered an unnecessary “expense,” because this expense is not recoverable as an investment in goods and services. Competitive efficiency does not value care work. It only values winning, which is why it destroys.

Capitalism assumes there is a structural deep division between the natural sphere, conceived as the supply of raw materials, and the economic sphere, conceived as the sphere of the production of value. Throughout human history, the privatization of the commons, theft of biodiversity, extractivist practices, and dispossession in the name of development, have resulted from human irrationality.

The development of the capitalist system has destroyed human life and nature. Weapons, nuclear energy, toxic chemical waste, biotechnologies, and the exponential growth of fossil fuel combustion, among other technologies, threaten all life on a planetary scale. Robotics, computers, and numerical control machines, all of which diminish socially necessary work, are a permanent threat to the working conditions by creating unemployment, underemployment, growing inequality, poverty and misery in large parts of the planet.

Without a doubt, nature is the starting point of capital, but it is not necessarily its point of arrival. Capitalism reaps its source of wealth from nature, providing its waste in return.

5. Symbolic-Mediatic[1] Oppression

Symbolic-mediatic oppression is now “the” new great wealth-generating engine. The production and appropriation of subjectivity and its transnational distribution networks have produced unprecedented modes of subjection. All direct forms of social interaction are replaced by forms mediated by a broad system of communications distant or alien from reality. Symbolic markets and popular cultures are reorganized in relationship with the massification of consumption and production of cultural goods.

The symbolic-mediatic oppression is supported by information and communication technologies. The mechanisms of oppression incorporate artificial intelligence into the instruments of domination. The dispute is over the control of the algorithms, socialization and transparency in the use of these tools. Artificial intelligence as a mechanism to produce “fake news” truths replaces the spectacularity of politics.

This kind of oppression has multiple and diverse incomprehensible forms. It provokes pleasure where it sows doubt or blackmail. It causes inactivity as a demobilizing reaction to it. The oppression of women becomes seductive, captivating, and creates a sense of disciplinary power. Violence is internalized in people’s subjectivity as an invisible and unassailable paralyzer.

6. Oppression of knowledge-wisdom[2]

The oppression of knowledge-wisdom is based on the coloniality of knowledge[3]. This means that the reading of/abstract interpretation of reality is done by using colonizing methods, categories and concepts. Disciplinary theories are constructed to divide science and knowledge, and to devalue popular and traditional knowledge. This oppression assumes an elitist, racist and androcentric position that reduces non-Western cultures to objects of marginal and exotic studies. 

The depoliticization of knowledge, and a science uncontaminated by reality, are arguments that legitimize instrumental rationality and the neutrality of values. From this knowledge, the web of patriarchal and capitalist power interweaves various systems of domination and projects them into the academic world of “truth.” Colonized knowledge-wisdom operates in all spaces of life; it is assumed uncritically as an unquestionable truth. Using language and discourses, this single knowledge-wisdom is imposed, closing the possibility for having dialogues among diverse knowledges-wisdoms.

[1] Mediatic means that it is related to the media.

[2] The original word in Spanish is ‘saberes’, a concept that has no easy translation into English. Upon consultation with authors, this is the translation we think applies best, in an effort to move away from the positivist concept of ‘knowledge’ and recognize the various ways of knowing that have been oppressed.

[3] ‘Coloniality of knowledge’ is a concept developed in Latin America and refers to how colonizers monopolize the access to, the distribution, production, and reproduction of knowledge in such a way that excludes alternative ways of knowing and knowledge (Quijano, 1998).

Written by Bianca Pessoa
Edited by Helena Zelic
Translated from Portuguese by Carolina Kuhn Facchin

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